Unforgettable, p.11

Unforgettable, page 11

 

Unforgettable
 


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  If Eloise woke before her next feed was due then Fiona would take her to the room she was working in, prop her up with cushions and surround her with toys leaving Eloise to amuse herself, or be distracted by watching Fiona’s movements. Fiona never spoke to Eloise, hardly looked at her. If downstairs, she would switch on the wireless and that was the way Eloise heard human voices when they were alone. When Eloise needed a feed, although she knew it wasn’t a good thing to do, she would lay the baby on her side and prop her bottle up on the cushions and Eloise would suck at the teat until she was finished. Fiona then winded her and changed her nappy and once Eloise was sleepy she’d take her up to Finn’s room for the afternoon, or better still, sometimes Dorrie or Belle would take her out in the pram. Unless he had business to see to, Guy turned up every weekend. Fiona cooked for him and it was nice for a while to chat to him, and smoke with him outside: she couldn’t bear ash in the house and there was Eloise to consider. Guy didn’t mind her rules. Thoughtfully, he never stayed overnight to prevent scandalous gossip.

  Fiona took muted pleasure in the things she had chosen for Merrivale. The floral, brocaded sitting-room suite was new and wonderfully comfortable. A lot of the things were new and some were carefully selected from auction rooms, all in warm, light-coloured wood. Some of the furnishings had come from Guy’s house, treasures of his grandmother, small porcelain pieces, a Georgian wall clock, a whatnot, platters for the kitchen dresser. New glass replaced the boards at the broken windows. The kitchen and bathroom plumbing were fully modernized. The fourth bedroom had been prettily designed as a nursery, but Finn, protective of Eloise, wanted her in with him until she was a little older. ‘I don’t want her feeling unwanted and lonely,’ he said. Fiona knew this was a barb at her lack of bonding with Eloise, something he was fervent to compensate for himself.

  She was dusting and polishing the fully furnished guest bedroom even though neither Guy nor any one else was ever likely to sleep there, and she sighed, irritated to hear Eloise begin to fret. ‘Wait. Go back to sleep. It’s not time yet.’ She ran the feather duster over the top of the wardrobe, the curtain rail, the pair of wild herb paintings and her baby’s low cries became increasingly pitiful wails. ‘Must be wind,’ she thought impatiently. ‘I’ll see to it then get on in the bathroom.’

  Pushing back Finn’s bedroom door, which he kept ajar so Fiona wouldn’t miss Eloise’s cries, she marched up to the cradle, picked up her baby without glancing at her face, put her loosely against her shoulder and rubbed and patted her back. While doing so Fiona looked out the window to the side of the cottage and down on the newly turned earth, planted by Hector Evans with late cabbages, onions and potatoes. They would need watering again this evening, she ruminated. Guy had placed a water butt for this purpose, filled by the rain that had intermittently spoiled all or part of the last few days. Eloise gave a couple of loud burps and her crying eased away. Eloise smelled sweet but Fiona checked her nappy for wetness. It was slightly damp. It could wait a bit longer to be changed. Laying Eloise back down Fiona put a little soft lamb on her chest and put her tiny warm hands over it. ‘Play with that then go back to sleep.’ Again she did this without looking at her daughter’s face. She felt nothing for Eloise. All she wanted for her was to stay safe.

  Finn always threw the covers over his bed and Fiona waited each morning until Eloise needed attention before she made the bed properly. Fiona planned to slip away hoping the baby would drift back to sleep. On top of the bed Finn had left his sketchbook. It had been months since she had taken interest in Finn’s favourite pastime, his skill that he had hoped would become his livelihood after further study. She froze on the spot, and for the first time acknowledged that Aidan’s rejection of her was also a rejection of Finn, who had subsequently lost his future, his dream. Fiona accepted his resentment for her slapping him; she had put her own feelings before his whereas mothers were supposed to be sacrificial and put themselves last in the family. While Eloise fidgeted in the cot she took Finn’s sketchbook to her own room, gleaming and heavy with polish, and sat down on the bed. She wanted to see if Finn’s drawings gave a clue as to what was on his mind. She dreaded to find a page with her appearing hangdog or mean, or a caricature (Finn excelled at those) of her cleaning in a whirlwind or as a witch perhaps. However, the pictures seemed to be all of Eloise. Eloise kicking her legs and grabbing her tiny feet. There was Eloise with her rattle in her pram. Lying on a blanket in a field surrounded by buttercups and butterflies. Being held by Dorrie at Sunny Corner, and Jean Vercoe at By The Way. Fiona gasped in wonder at an amazing ethereal study of Eloise being held by Belle Lawry, with Belle’s hair encircling them both and Belle gazing lovingly at Eloise as if she was her mother. Fiona felt pangs of jealousy. She had carried Eloise inside her body and given birth to her. There were the gorgeous details of Eloise’s first smiles. Jealousy again, for Fiona had not noticed her baby smiling into her eyes. At the last drawing Fiona felt as if an icy hand had clenched her heart. It depicted Eloise with her little face puckered up about to cry.

  It hurt Fiona. Her baby was about to cry with discomfort, pain or fear and before now she had not cared a jot. Slamming into her mind came a rhyme from a skipping game Fiona had taken part in as a child:

  Poor little baby, no wonder you cry

  Your daddy doesn’t love you and your mother’s going to die.

  But God will send an angel

  With wings long and fair

  To take you up to heaven

  To join your mummy there.

  Fiona jumped to her feet. ‘My poor baby, I promise I won’t leave you.’ She paced the floor, wringing her hands, striding from the paisley rug to the polished floorboards and back again and again. ‘Your daddy doesn’t love you . . .’ Suddenly she was the angriest she had been in her life. Fury and offence frothed up inside her and spilled out into a strangled scream of pure rage. She clenched her fists, made movements like shredding a cushion, then as if throttling someone’s neck. Aidan’s damned neck! ‘That’s right,’ she seethed at the ripped and mangled image in her mind. ‘Your daddy doesn’t love you, Eloise. He doesn’t love Finn and he doesn’t love me. He probably never did. I was just the sort of pretty, adoring, compliant wife he wanted, a good hostess, willing in the bedroom, grateful for my good fortune in life and living for his approval and compliments. Yet all the while he was laughing at me, making a fool of me, squirming because I couldn’t let him go. He’ll make a new life with this tart he’s got and won’t give us another thought. Well, he’ll squirm all right if he ever gets down on his luck and tries to wheedle his way back into our lives. His beastly rotten charm won’t work on me again.’

  She punched at that image and could almost see her wrath for real. ‘I hate you, do you hear? Rot in hell.’

  Her energy whooshing out of her she flopped down flat on the bed, the back of her hand over her brow, sweating and panting. ‘Why did I spend so much time moping for that worthless man? Finn was right about him all along. I should have listened to Finn. I’ve caused him so much worry. No wonder he’d rather spend time with Dorrie and Sam Lawry and the Vercoes. I’ve got a lot to make up to him.’

  Poor little baby . . . ‘My darling little girl,’ she whispered in remorse, sitting up. ‘You don’t need an angel from heaven, you’ve got one here on earth. Dorrie Resterick.’

  Standing up and straightening her dress and half apron and pushing back the locks of hair that had fallen lose from the pins during her frenzy, without caring about her rumpled bedcovers, she went straight to Finn’s room. ‘I’m coming, Eloise, my precious little girl. I’m going to hold you and play with you all morning and then I’m going to move your things into my room to catch up on the time I’ve stupidly lost with you.’

  Thirteen

  ‘What do you want?’

  ‘The warm welcome I never get from you, Esther,’ Honoria Sanders replied in her throbbing voice. Honoria was not offended; it was Esther’s way to be curt and Esther didn’t mind her walking s
traight into her house. Honoria was wearing the latest fashion, a full-skirted dress in olive green and a bolero cardigan. ‘So, here we are again, the day before the off. For getting the grounds ready for the great and wonderful Summer Fair.’

  Esther used little of the house; it was too big and cumbersome to be kept clean all year round and heat in the winter. She was in her sunny south-facing drawing room, on an ancient threadbare settee, her shoes kicked off and her big feet tucked up under her, drinking tea, gulping down a sandwich, a notepad and pencil on the lap of her tweed skirt. ‘Yes, and I’ve got everything well under way as always so you can hop it. Take your murderous heels, pearls, diamond-heavy fingers, painted lips, bouncing tits and wiggling arse out of here.’

  ‘Really, Esther,’ Honoria simpered, putting a hand in a manner worthy of a Hollywood screen siren to her ample chest. ‘At least I’ve got breasts. Remember you’re a lady, so get those legs down and sit like one. I’ve come to ask if you’ve got anyone interesting lined up to open the fête? There’s no one mentioned on the posters. If you’re dragging your nets and coming up empty I’ve got a suggestion for you. Any more tea in that pot?’

  In a flash Esther had her long wide feet resting down on the worn pink and cream carpet. Threadbare described just about everything in the house where tradition dictated nothing new and modern after the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. ‘Help yourself, use my cup; fire away.’ The sisters were never really at loggerheads. Insulting one another counted as affection between the two who were so utterly different. Having been left entirely under the care of nannies throughout their childhood they had often found that each other was all they had.

  Honoria lowered herself down beside her sister and took tea without milk and sugar. ‘A bit stewed but does the trick. Right, to the point, as I know you like it. An old friend of mine has got in touch, Squadron Leader Tommy Whitley, a spitfire pilot, Battle of Britain hero. He’s staying in Rock for a few weeks as a house guest to the Honourable somebody-or-other. Asked if I was free to see him this weekend. I mentioned the Summer Fair and dived in with a mention that he would be perfect to perform the opening speech. He’s a humble sort, but he said he’d be glad to rake up a few words if you’d like to have him. If you’re already fixed up he’d be happy to be a guest of honour.’

  ‘A war hero will be just the ticket. Villagers will love it. I’d call on an old professor acquaintance of mine but he agreed only as a last resort. Bit bumbling these days. He’ll be glad to be let off. Good on you, Honny. This pilot was a lover of yours, of course?’

  Honoria relinquished the teacup and opened her crocodile skin handbag and produced her lavish cigarette case. She smoked from a silver-tipped holder while Esther smoked between her fingers. ‘Just for a night or two before he was thrown into the thick of it. He’s such a sweetie. His wife left him for a retired MP and they buggered off to Monte Carlo. Jolly rank of her, I thought. Now he only sees his kiddies when he goes over there. He’ll be staying at Sawle over the weekend.’

  ‘And you’ll be giving him pleasure for old times’ sake,’ Esther said, matter-of-factly. ‘Give me his details. I’ll dash round and add his name to the posters. News will soon get round. Give the locals something to look forward to.’

  ‘Fine, I’m glad to be of help. Oh, I brought over whacks of stuff for the stalls. Your handyman Ellery has unloaded it on the lawn. Would love to come back later and help with the setting up but must slip home, ring Tommy, and get ready for his stay.’

  ‘Thanks, old girl,’ Esther said gratefully then added dismissively, ‘you wouldn’t be much damned use here anyway. Don’t want the men distracted. See you on Saturday with our special guest. Don’t dare be late.’

  Honoria sashayed to the door. ‘I was about to say cheerio but you look as if you’ve got something to say.’

  Breathing in seriously, Esther asked, ‘Do you ever regret not finding someone special, that particular someone, your soul mate? You could have had children, Honny. It was never an option for me.’

  ‘Not in the least,’ Honoria answered with emphatic cheeriness. ‘I wasn’t made for monogamy. Life is to be lived, in my book. As for children, couldn’t have stood the hideous responsibility. Made sure I could never be knocked up. But I like to help others’ children when and where I can. Events like the Summer Fair are important for the children. You have a different reason but we both love to see their happy little faces. And the village hall will be brilliant for them. Must ensure lots of things go on there for the kiddies.’

  ‘You’ve had a happier life than me but I am happy really. Marrying Sedgewick, as old and as infirm as he was, was perfect for me. He had children with his first wife but they all sadly died in infancy. I would have enjoyed being a stepmother – if they’d grown up and been agreeable.’

  ‘But it wouldn’t have been wise, Esther,’ Honoria said, showing sadness for her sister.

  ‘I know, and adopting would have been too tricky . . . but I have my works, Faith’s Fare and the rest. I like having you close by, Honny. I’d hate it if you moved away.’

  ‘Well, we’ll both have to one day. You couldn’t possibly stay here forever and wherever you go I’ll come too – to make sure everything goes right for you.’

  ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you.’ Suddenly trembling, Esther leaned over and hugged herself. ‘That awful thing . . . If everyone knew . . . everything.’

  ‘Esther dear.’ Honoria spoke and smiled stridently. ‘Don’t worry, old thing. I’ve protected you before and if necessary will do so again, whatever the cost.’

  Fourteen

  ‘Well, that’s us done, Mrs Pentecost, we’re completely sold out.’ Dorrie smiled happily as she and the other woman packed up their trestle table on Petherton’s lawn. ‘Not a slice of cake or fruit pie, scone or biscuit left. The village tea tables will be in for a treat this weekend.’

  ‘Most of it should be tasty despite the use of substitute ingredients for egg, sugar and spices. We’re lucky here, having The Orchards to supply us with all manner of fruit.’ Mrs Pentecost gathered together all the lace doilies, lent from various homes, to take home to launder. ‘No elaborate offerings from Delia Newton this year. When is the silly woman going to pull herself together and get out of her bed? Never known anyone to sulk as long as her.’

  ‘But isn’t Rebecca a little worried about her?’ Dorrie stacked the plates on to a massive teak tray with high rims, used in the long-ago glory days of entertaining Society at Petherton. She and Mrs Pentecost would take a turn at washing crocks inside in the gloomy, cold-all-year-round, high-ceilinged scullery, then they would be free to enjoy the other stalls and side shows, until the packing up at the end of the day. The children’s country dancing was due to start in forty minutes, always a favourite of both women. ‘It’s the impression I get.’

  ‘I suppose so. I think tests have been mentioned, but I still think Delia’s trying to get back at us, and I’ll vouchsafe she’s enjoying making poor little Lorna Barbary run about for her.’

  ‘Hello, ladies, you have done splendidly, gold stars all round, you’re the most reliable of my team.’ Esther pounced on them happily. She was wearing an elbow-length, pleat-fronted dress with a wide diamanté buckled belt, a summery picture hat, and had swirled her hair about her head, adding a sparkly slide, and dark pink lipstick. She looked attractive but rather cumbersome. Her rounded cheeks were flushed with excitement. ‘Were you talking about the suffering lady of the bed with diverse things wrong with her? I would be surprised if Delia doesn’t show up here before the end of the day in an invalid chair, in blankets and bonnet, looking for sympathy. Can’t see people being fooled if she does; she won’t get very much pity. It’s good to see Miss Barbary has managed to snatch a few minutes away from her. Mr Soames Newton is treating her to a cream tea. She must be a godsend to him.’

  Esther swept her hands in a circle to indicate the bustling scene all around them. ‘One of our best years, don’t you think? Busy te
a tent, continual music from our home-grown talent, the brass band and the smaller groups. We have gifts, produce, the white elephant, hula hoop, Punch and Judy, fortune telling by Gypsy Rosalie – she’s as much a gypsy as I am, but no matter, load of old tosh anyway. Ruffles the Chirpy Chappie Clown is going down a treat with his magic tricks. A chap from Bodmin, you know, late of the DCLI. I read about him and snapped him up, says he’ll come every year. The kiddies like to look forward to their favourites. They will remember things like this all their lives. Mr Walters says he’s expecting to get some good essays out of his pupils’ experiences today. The painting competition was a winner. Squadron Leader Whitley was a jolly good sport to have agreed to be the judge. Talking of painting, the Templeton boy is brilliant with a brush or a pencil, did you know? Oh, of course you do, you’ve seen them. The posters he made for the event have caused quite a stir, all those little pictures of the promised events down in fine detail. People have asked him to draw their children, pooches and whatever. He was happy to agree, should earn him a bob or two. Talented boy that, damned shame he can’t complete his education.’

  Dorrie peered through the crowd and spotted Finn having a go at the coconut shy. Next to him was Belle. ‘It doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion that Finn must altogether forget his dreams of becoming a graphic artist and illustrator. Greg and I having been talking about Finn, and now that Mrs Templeton is making excellent strides, we were wondering if Finn could try somewhere for a scholarship or bursary. The main objection might be from Finn himself. He’s sworn he’ll never leave little Eloise.’

 
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